Students at Evans High School in Evans, Georgia celebrate their first Henrietta Lacks Day

On October 4, 2011, the Evans High School Multicultural Club and Evans High School Biology teachers invited the entire staff and student body of Evans High School to celebrate the life of Henrietta Lacks.  Henrietta Lacks died of cervical cancer at Johns Hopkins Hospital on this day in 1951.  Henrietta Lacks may have died on this day, but her cells, called HeLa cells, are still living in laboratories all over the world.  “Henrietta’s cells were the first immortal human cells ever grown in culture.  They were essential to developing the polio vaccine.  They went up in the first space missions to see what would happen to cells in zero gravity.  Many scientific landmarks since then have used her cells, including cloning, gene mapping, and in vitro fertilization” (Zielinski, 2010).  This is an incredible story told by Rebecca Skloot in her award-winning book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.  This book makes a wonderful springboard for discussions concerning civil rights and medical ethics as well as the science behind these miraculous cells.  Another interesting subject covered in the book involves the Lacks family.  The family receives no monetary compensation from laboratories and drug companies using HeLa cells and they cannot afford healthcare. (more…)

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Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

I knew that my novel, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, was making its way onto high school reading lists when curious emails began popping up in my inbox. They tended to go something like this:

“Um, you know, your book, Motel on the Corner of Sweet and Sour—dude, it’s like m favorite novel of all time!! And I’m kinda wondering if you could, like, answer these twelve questions for me? (In my mind, I always hear this question coming from a nasally, voice-cracking, pre-pubescent 14-year-old boy wearing a Hot Topic hoodie with his ear buds in, listening to “Bring Me the Horizon”).

And just like that, I was suddenly someone’s homework. Right up there with Of Mice and Men, the Pythagorean Theorem, and building dioramas out of old shoe-boxes and craftpaper.

To be honest, I wasn’t entirely sure how my novel would be received.

So then I asked myself why so many students embrace books like The Catcher in the Rye and To Kill a Mockingbird—because they’re amazing novels? Sure. But moreover, these are books with young protagonists. They offer voices that are readily absorbed by the intrepid imaginations of young adults. (more…)

Read the important book that’s topping many school lists. Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer who worked the same land as her slave ancestors, yet her cells—taken without her knowledge—became one of the most important tools in medicine. The first “immortal” human cells grown in culture, they are still alive today, though she has been dead for more than sixty years.

In the following video clip, author Rebecca Skloot sits down to discuss the inspiration, impact, and process that went into The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.

The paperback edition of the book releases on March 8, 2011.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

by Amy Jurskis, Tri-cities High School, East Point, Georgia

Like many teachers, I grew up reading, and to this day I attribute most of my knowledge to stories I read in books. Perhaps more than any other pedagogical tool, narratives allow students to connect to, organize, and make sense of information—which is why I was thrilled to tune into Fresh Air on NPR one afternoon and discover Rebecca Skloot’s amazing book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Skloot’s book is essentially three narratives, each with unique applications to the disciplines of language arts, history, and science. First there is the story of the author’s own odyssey—sparked by a casual comment made by a biology instructor—to discover the woman behind the HeLa cells. Skloot’s story is both a riveting work of investigative journalism and a deeply moving memoir, as her search for answers ultimately results in the development of a life-changing friendship with Henrietta’s daughter Deborah. (more…)